Massive growth in the East Valley has spurred a sprawl of new subdivisions on county land — some of which, residents and officials say, are not being responsibly developed.
Unregulated "land splits" or "lot splits," also called unregulated or "wildcat" subdivisions, have been a problem for decades, officials say, but the impact is increasing with growth.
"It’s growing more sophisticated," said Cindy Ferrin, deputy director of the state Department of Real Estate’s subdivision unit.
State law allows a landowner to split land into up to five lots for sale without being subject to certain regulations on size, infrastructure and amenities.
Last month the department sent a cease and desist order to 86 people and businesses involved in the Greer Ranch subdivision off New River Road, north of Carefree Highway,saying those involved sought to avoid subdivision regulations.
Such investigations are becoming more common, Ferrin said. The department’s illegal subdivision investigative staff includes three full-time employees and a part-time one, but "they still can’t keep up with it," she said.
Queen Creek Town Manager Cynthia Seelhammer attributes the problem to "a little bit of the Wild West mentality."
Evidence of it can be seen for miles around Queen Creek, she said. Neighborhoods without easements, where owners claim land to the middle of the dirt roads, are dotted with blue street signs designating county land.
"Homeowners are often surprised to find that in order to get water or power it has to come across their property in some peculiar way," she said.
Growth in nearby Pinal County has increased the problem there. Rural residents such as Gordon Brown worry that developers are "vandalizing the land."
"We’re not opposed to land splits," Brown said. "We’re opposed to unregulated land splits — land splits being used as a vehicle to circumvent development standards."
Brown said he and others plan to try to fix the problem at the state level, by seeking to change the law. "We want the loopholes plugged," he said.
Besides preventing overcrowding in rural areas and making sure infrastructure is in place to support subdivisions, the residents’ effort could save money.
Bringing wildcat subdivisions up to code is expensive when they want to be annexed by a municipality or simply have standard utility and emergency access
It costs less if developers comply with subdivision regulations to begin with, officials said.
"Someday, someone’s going to have go back and fix those problems — go back and improve those public amenities," Seelhammer said. "All of us, taxpayers, are going to end up footing the bill for that."